Almost immediately upon opening its virtual doors in July 2008, the App Store found itself flooded with all sorts of simple utilities—flashlights, tip calculators, currency converters, and the like. I had pages on my iPhone filled with these one trick ponies—some free, many costing $1 or more. Now, with close to 100,000 apps available, all begging for a spot on my iPhone, I just can’t justify using up valuable screen space for a ton of single-purpose apps that I might use only once in a while. What I want instead is an app that performs all of these functions.
Well, AllAboutApps has come to the rescue with AppBox Pro, an app that runs on the iPhone and iPod touch, combining 21 useful apps into one. There are system tools (memory, battery, talk-time, and so on), several types of calendars and date calculators, various unit converters, a couple of measuring tools and, of course, a tip calculator and a flashlight. What would you pay for all of these apps? $1 each? $2 each? How about the low, low price of $2 for all of them? (You following me, camera guy?)
When you open the app, its interface looks much like a standard iPhone screen, with the mini-apps’ icons displayed in a 4-by-5 grid. (The all-in-one iCatchall and iCatchall Tools apps from Headlight Software take a similar approach.) The icons aren’t particularly beautiful, but they’re functional, and perfectly fine for an app that costs only a buck. Space doesn’t let me cover all of the utilities that are available, but here are a few of the highlights:
The Battery Life app displays your charge level, remaining talk time, and so forth. I haven’t done any precise testing here, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy.
The Currency app converts among the world’s most common currencies. Since this information changes continually, the app periodically updates itself online. I checked its accuracy against Google’s currency converter, and both were spot on.
The Unit app converts between almost any unit of measurement you can think of, including area, length, cooking measurements, temperature, weight, and so on. I also checked its accuracy against Google’s unit calculator and they were also identical.
The Price Grab app calculates the unit price of two items in order to determine which is the better value.
The Holidays app displays the official holidays observed in various countries. It automatically includes the US, UK, and several other countries, and provides the ability to add or remove other countries from the list.
One of my favorite apps is the Translator. Powered by Google Translate, it translates a good portion of the languages that Google’s Web app supports, and goes a step further by letting you e-mail your translations and save a list of favorite translated phrases, something that I think could be quite useful for travelers.
The Google Book reader is also quite interesting, allowing you to browse Google’s expansive library of digitized books.
And, of course, the Tip Calc and Flashlight apps do exactly what you think.
Apparently, AllAboutApps assumed that people would want to customize the look of the app because it provided lots of options to do just that. You can rearrange the icons on the apps screen and also hide the ones you don’t use.
One of my favorite optional features is the “toolbar.” This provides an alternative to the standard icon-grid display by placing a scrolling list of app icons along the top of the currently active app’s screen. To launch a different utility, just scroll the list and tap the desired icon. This is especially useful if you’ve set-up one of the utilities to open up automatically with the main app; you can switch directly to a new app without going back to the main screen.
Also included for the $2 fee is data backup space on the developer’s servers. I had saved quite a few translations as favorites, but then inadvertently deleted the app from my iPhone. When I reinstalled it, all those saved translations were gone. However, I had recently gone to the settings screen and backed up my data, so it was very simple to restore everything back to my iPhone.
AppBox Pro isn’t slick and sexy, and will probably never be featured on an iPhone commercial, but that doesn’t detract from its usefulness. It’s quite functional and an excellent value, even if you use only a small number of the utilities. It hasn’t made it to my Home screen yet, but it’s not very far away either.
[Brian Beam is a Drupal web developer and partner with BOLD Internet Solutions, living somewhere near Kansas City.]